Transcript: Thursday Josh Heupel press conference before Ole Miss

Opening statement…

“Hope everybody’s doing great. Had a great day today with the guys. The week’s gone well. Excited about this one. Everybody understands the environment we’re going to have a chance to play in on Saturday night. (Ole Miss is) a really good football team, but preparation’s been good. Excited for this one, ready to go play.”

On his evaluations of Ole Miss’ defensive performances this season…

“Every week’s different. You play the same team 10 times over on the same day, it’s going to unfold differently. They’ve got good players. They play extremely hard. It’s the next step for us as an offense, and I say that meaning the next challenge. For us, a lot of it is about us, and growing and continuing to mature in our preparation, but then be able to adjust to what we see on game day. Each game has its own identity. We’ll find out through the course of play what the identity is in this game.

KNOXVILLE, TN – October 09, 2021 – Running back Tiyon Evans #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

On Saturday’s game impact on developing a new culture at Tennessee…

“It’s the biggest game up until this point because it’s the only one we get to play this week. The environment, what our kids have done on the field, the work that they’ve put in, it’s awesome that our fan base has recognized that. Excited about what our players are doing inside of our program. They’ve built this opportunity. It’s about our preparation and being ready to go play. Can’t wait to see Vol Walk, to see the stadium checkerboarded out. After the ball game last week, when we started talking about this one, talked about, it needs to be a home field advantage. Obviously, Saturday night should be that way. Can’t wait to experience it with our crowd. Looking forward to it.”

On the development of newcomers Julian Nixon, Trinity Bell and Kaemen Marley…

“Trinity is really still coming off of an injury that he sustained in high school. Continuing to rehab, reshape his body as he goes through that process. Doing some really good things with our strength and conditioning staff. The other guys are working on practice squads and continuing to grow. Physically, they’re continuing to develop. Every opportunity we get a chance to get those guys work, we do, but they continue to invest and grow inside of our program.”

On his vision for Kaemen Marley’s position moving forward…

“I think Kaemen’s a guy that his position group’s going to continue to unfold as his career unfolds here.”

On preparing for different game scenarios…

“Yeah, situational football—it really unfolds during the course of the game. You try to put yourself in unique situations, we try to do that on a day like today. The last five to 10 minutes are spent as an entire team just going through situational football, substitution patterns, unique scenarios that come up, in particular in the middle of the football field with special teams. We’ve got to have multiple units that are ready to go play. You try and prepare your kids and make sure that they’re ready for those situations, your coaching staff too. Fourth down calls, based on the flow of the game and where you’re at, personnel, all those things,  they kind of unfold during the course of the game.”

On Ole Miss QB Matt Corral’s improvement…

“Year one to year two as a quarterback in a system, continuing to grow as a decision maker—that’s, in part, him. But it’s also the guys that are around him too, and they’ve continued to evolve and grow as an offensive unit. He’s a great playmaker, he does a good job of taking care of the football. We’ve got to apply pressure to him, also got to bottle him up inside the pocket. You let him get loose, he’ll hurt you with his feet, but he hurts you with his arm first. So, we’ve got to do a great job matching people for zone coverage once he does break contain, but we’ve got to make it an uncomfortable night for him inside the pocket.”

On Tiyon Evans’ productivity…

“Absolutely. His growth inside of what we’re doing offensively and understanding of what we’re doing, the physical attributes were all there. He’s really grown physically—I’m talking about from when I got here in late January, early February—continuing to develop his body the way that you need to coming from a junior college. He’s got a high, high ceiling and need him to be really productive.”

On preparing the defense for a scrambling QB…

“You still have to rush him. If you don’t, he’s going to sit back there all day long. But you’ve got to maintain some rush integrity, and when we’ve done that, we’ve made it extremely difficult to get out of the pocket. When we haven’t done that, and understand the defensive call, where the other bodies are at, and what I need to do as a D-lineman or a linebacker or secondary player in the pressure, then we’ve given quarterbacks the opportunity to get out and extend and make plays. Can’t do that on Saturday night.”

On comfort of team depth…

“Certainly more than we were probably week one. Every week you find more out about your identity as far as the individuals on your football team and their ability to handle and play during the course of play. They’re also going to grow through that process too, and we’ve seen a lot of guys do that.”

On Tiyon Evans’ availability this weekend…

“Early in the week we didn’t know what his availability would be. As the week has gone on, he’s been able to get more work. Ultimately, we make those decisions on Friday.”

On what he sees from Ole Miss’ running backs…

“They do a great job of understanding what the schemes are. They press the line of scrimmage and they have the ability to make you miss. They get pad under pad. They’re well coached, they do a good job. But the quarterback makes the numbers for them a lot of the time, playing 11 on 11, and their offensive line does a really nice job.”

On what he sees from Ole Miss’ special teams…

“For us, I think it is absolutely critical that we win that phase of game. There’s been times that we’ve done a really good job on all four major teams. At times, we haven’t been as productive as we need to be. Our cover units have to do a great job. They have to win at the line of scrimmage, they have to get off. Our punt team in particular, but our kickoff cover unit too. That’s where it starts for us special teams wise.”

On the response from his special teams unit after giving up some plays in recent games…

“We’ve been really good, too, with our cover units. Our punt team has been really, pretty sound all year long. Kickoff cover, we’ve given up a couple returns, one that obviously went the distance. Other than that, they’ve been really solid. As guys have gotten hurt, you’ve seen new faces on there. It’s a phase of the game where the new faces have to show up and be highly productive. Getting some of the guys back here from recent weeks will help us on those teams for sure. But the added experience, I think we have a good chance to go out and play really well on Saturday night.”

On his thoughts on a turnover-prone quarterback and if that can be rewired…

“Turnovers happen because your eyes aren’t in the right place, your ball security mechanics aren’t right, your decision making is not right. Fundamentally, it can be a big issue, just as far as being accurate with the football, talking about when you’re throwing it. You can continue to grow and evolve and change the player with all those things. It’s not about the effect of it, the actual turnover, you have to rewind it and look at what the cause of all those things are. Then, you have a chance to correct them.”

On what area he thinks his defense has taken steps to prepare for a mobile quarterback…

“To me, it just starts with understanding of our schemes. That’s base fronts, four-man fronts, and three-man fronts. Understanding your rush integrity, but then you add in the pressures. Just the growth of our understanding of what we are doing is the first place it starts at being better at that. That will be a big part of the game though, on Saturday.”

On Byron Young’s progression through the last couple weeks…

“Tough for him, just not being able to play early in the football season. As he’s gotten back, gotten his feet on the ground, the playing experience. You see that showing up every single week for him, where he is making gains just in how he’s playing, the technique he’s playing with. Always plays with great effort, that showed up a bunch last week.”

-UT Athletics

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